2nd February 2014 The Presentation of the Lord

A. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Jesus the light of the world; a sign that will be rejected.

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Malachi 3:1-4).

The Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple. The present reading may be understood all the better when placed within its original biblical context in the book of Malachi. The name Malachi in Hebrew means “my messenger”, and in 3:1 God says: “I shall send my messenger (malachi) to clear a way before me”. It may be that the title of the work comes from here, so that we do not know the name of its real author. The date of the work is also quite uncertain, possibly some time in the fifth century BC. The work is composed of six passages similar in construction, in each of which God, or his prophet, makes a statement which is disputed by priests or people. After this a discourse follows in which threat and a promise of salvation are given side by side. The sixth and last of these passages is 2:17-3:21 in which the people are represented as wearying the Lord with the following complain: “Any evil-doer is good as far as the Lord is concerned; indeed he is”, and their further statement: “Where is the God of fair judgment now?” Their complaint is not born of cynicism, but the anguished cry of those who want to live in a world where good and not evil is paramount. God replies that he will act. He will send a messenger to purify the priesthood and the Temple. He takes note of their complaint and writes the names of his faithful one in a book of remembrance. The triumph of the upright will come with the Day of the Lord, when the difference between the good and the wicked will be seen.

Today’s brief reading was part of that original setting. In keeping with the feast we celebrate its chief interest is in the sudden visit of the Lord to his Temple, the Temple that is his own. In the opening section mention is made of the coming of the Lord, of his messenger, of the angel of the covenant. In keeping with an Old Testament phrase the two latter, messenger and angel (the Hebrew has the same word for both) may be another respectful way of saying ”the Lord”, as the words “the angel of the Lord” do occasionally in the book of Exodus. The Lord comes to purify his Temple and its priesthood (the sons of Levi), so that their offering to the Lord will be as it should be, welcomed by the Lord as in earlier days when the city and Temple were holy. As announced in this Old Testament passage, the Lord’s refining visit will be severe, like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s alkali. The visit of the Infant Jesus, in the arms of his mother Mary, was quite different.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 23[24]). Who is the king of glory? It is the Lord.

Second Reading (Hebrews 2:14-18).

It was essential that he should in this way become completely like his brothers. The message of this reading is clear, and in keeping with the theme of the feast we are celebrating. Jesus is one of our own, a member of the human race. Jesus did not assume the nature of angels, but rather descent from Abraham, a member of God’s chosen people. It was central to God’s plan that Jesus, his Son, should by his life be a leader and an example to all his followers in the road to salvation. Jesus is our brother, and it was fitting that he could be like us his brothers and sisters in all things, sin excepted, so that he could be a compassionate and trustworthy high priest in the presence of God. During his life on earth and at his passion he was tempted and suffered. He understood the desires, ambitions and weaknesses of human nature. Now as high priest in heaven he still understands them. He understands those who are a success in life, and those who fail miserably. He can help both.

The Gospel (Luke 2:22-40).

My eyes have seen your salvation. This text tells us of the life of pious Jews in Christ’s day and looks forward to a new age through Christ’s coming. Although Paul, as apostle to the gentiles, broke with the Jewish law, he understood the role that this played in God’s plan, and Jesus’ respect for this. As he wrote to the Galatians: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4). Luke stresses the fidelity of Jesus’ family, Mary and Joseph, to the observance of the rites of this Law. According to the Law of Moses a mother was to have herself purified forty days after childbirth. This is the basis for the present celebration. Another provision of the Mosaic Law was that the firstborn male was to be consecrated to the Lord. Mary and Joseph did this on the same occasion, offering the gifts of the poor – a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. At the end of this reading Luke notes again the fidelity of Jesus’ family to the Law: When they had done everything that the Law of the Lord required they returned to Galilee and Nazareth.

From the human point of view few would have paid any attention to this simple event in the Temple. It needed prophetic intervention to bring out the symbolism of the occasion. Malachi’s prophecy, of the first reading, spoke of the visit the Lord was to pay to his Temple. The Temple was a symbol at all ages of Israel’s history of God’s relation with his chosen people, an age that from one point of view was soon to be past history in view of the new beginning that the Child Jesus ushered in. Few would have paid attention to that visit of Mary and Joseph, with the child Jesus to the Temple. There were two there, however, who understood its significance through special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna. Both were waiting for the fulfilment of the prophecies on the hope of Israel, especially as seen through the Servant Songs of the book of Isaiah. Simeon and Anna had different terms for this hope: for Simeon the Messiah, or the Christ, of the Lord, the Light of Israel, salvation; for Anna the deliverance of Jerusalem Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Simeon announces that Jesus is a light to enlighten the pagans and the Glory of God’s people Israel. He tells Mary, mother of the child, that her son is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is to be rejected. Thus in this simple ceremony in the Temple, in which God visited his people, we have in advance a sign for the life of Jesus and the history of the Church for most ages: Jesus, a sign of God’s love for humanity, but is a sign that will be rejected.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Jesus the light of the world; a sign that will be rejected.

Today’s Scripture readings give ample material for personal and communal reflection on matters relating to dialogue with certain sections of the society of our own day. One thinks particularly of the word of the prophet Simeon to Mary, mother of Jesus, concerning her Son as a sign to be spoken against or even rejected. Jesus is the light of the world. He is the good shepherd who came to give life to the individual and the world, and to give it abundantly. He sent forth his apostles, and all his followers, to the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Jesus’ teaching and general message is held in high regard today, even by many who believe neither in the Church nor even in God. But even during his own lifetime, and throughout Church history and in our own day there is often expressed a venomous hatred of the Church, her teaching, with efforts being made to remove her influence in public life. While it can be granted that the scandals within the Church are part of this opposition and hatred, quite often these are only taken as an excuse to oppose revealed teaching and the Church’s loyalty to Christ. While all sin, past and present, within the Church must be admitted and regretted, at the same time it is good to recall that Jesus himself was a sign to be spoken against or even rejected, and his followers should be prepared for similar treatment.

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